When Giulia Manca traveled to Pianosa, a former Italian prison island, back in 2011, she was looking forward to a relaxing sunshine break before returning home.
But 12 years after checking into the beachfront Hotel Milena, which is staffed by supervised convicts on probation, Manca has remained on the island known as the Alcatraz of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Now the only woman living in the ghost village of Pianosa, part of Tuscany’s archipelago marine park, Manca serves as both the manager of the hotel and supervisor of the island’s rehabilitation program, run by Arnera, a nonprofit organization with the social mission of helping vulnerable people such as inmates get back into society, and Tuscany’s prison authorities.
“I stayed one week at the hotel and didn’t want to leave,” Manca tells CNN. “It was a unique holiday and the rehab project fascinated me, how these inmates were given a second chance in life.
“I fell in love with Pianosa. Its silence, the turquoise clear paradise-like sea, the peaceful starry nights.”
Once nicknamed the Devil’s Island, Pianosa, located between Corsica and the mainland, is now a blissful retreat beloved for its beautiful beaches and lush green vegetation.
One of just two of the island’s permanent residents, Manca lives and works alongside a jail guard, as well as 10 male convicts, who work as cooks, gardeners, waiters, beach cleaners and dishwashers at Hotel Milena, the only accommodation facility on the island.
Surrounded by pine trees, Hotel Milena features frescoed ceilings, and holds 11 rooms with wooden furniture and a stunning sea view, as well as a large patio, where inmates serve evening drinks to guests, a restaurant and a bar.
Manca had been a guest at the unique hotel, which is open year-round, for just a few days when the then-manager informed her that the establishment was struggling financially and at risk of closure.
If this were to happen, the detainees would have to be transferred back to jail, putting a swift end to their time on Pianosa.
“I felt I had to do something to help them or they would have gone back behind bars, inside tiny cells with no chance of a fresh start and of learning a job that can help them once…
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